by Ian Wright
While the Toyota Land Cruiser isn't always the first vehicle that comes to mind when we talk about iconic off-roaders, it is one of the most far-reaching. It's valued in some of the most far-flung parts of the world, from the Australian outback to the most dangerous areas of Africa, for its incredible durability mixed with a now-legendary level of off-road prowess. Whether it's adventurers, aid workers, or farmers, the Land Cruiser has been serving people since 1951. However, there has been criticism of the current generation for becoming more complex to the point of being overdeveloped.
Indeed, it now has plenty of driver aids, including an electronically controlled four-wheel-drive drivetrain and an advanced suspension system. However, it's still the relentless off-road bruiser we've come to know and love. While other big SUVs have been watered down or morphed into crossovers, the Land Cruiser has steadfastly remained a body-on-frame SUV. Under the hood, the 5.7-liter V8 has proved itself as a stout, but thirsty, power plant and continues to be the only engine available for 2020. Eager to prove itself, a new-for-2020 Heritage Edition landed in our driveway.
Celebrating more than six decades of the Land Cruiser nameplate, the 2020 model year goes on sale in the US with a limited-volume Heritage Edition, which is unique not only in its aesthetic nuances, but also as it is exclusively available in a two-row, five-seater configuration. Other than the unique paint options, bronze forged-aluminum wheels, a standard Yakima MegaWarrior cargo basket, and black and bronze interior trim, the Heritage Edition is fitted with the same basic features as the standard Land Cruiser. No mechanical changes are made for 2020, and the standard variant carries over as is from 2019 with only a few changes made to the exterior paint options list.
See trim levels and configurations:
5.7L V8 Gas
It's not just the engine and transmission that makes a heavy vehicle like the Land Cruiser a pleasure to drive on the road. All the weight is moving around as the SUV accelerates, decelerates, and corners. Toyota's kinetic dynamic suspension system keeps everything in check surprisingly well and to the point where the Land Cruiser offers excellent grip on the pavement as well as dirt. Body roll is kept to a minimum and, while you don't forget the heft of the Land Cruiser, it doesn't feel hampered by it. The suspension even makes easy work of high-frequency lumps and bumps at speed, and makes for a smooth ride on the road. The steering is weighted and a little on the heavy side, which helps remind you what you're driving without hampering you in tight areas.
It's not until you pump the breaks where you are truly reminded of the weight. The brakes aren't weak, but there is 5,715 pounds of weight to be wielded around, so they do require a firmer foot than a similarly sized crossover.
Off-road is where everything comes together, including the permanent four-wheel-drive and low-range transfer case. We were eager to put the Land Cruiser 4x4 through its paces, and it absolutely shone in the dusty Badlands. Short approach and departure angles take the anxiety out of starting and finishing steep inclines and declines, while the length of the Land Cruiser isn't too big of a detriment to the breakover angle.
While a shorter wheelbase would help for rock crawling, we would have to go deliberately hunting for trails that could genuinely challenge the Land Cruiser. The Heritage Edition dispenses with the running boards, though, and frees the Land Cruiser to be the best it can off the road without adding aftermarket tires. The one criticism that can be leveled when off-roading with the Land Cruiser is that finding the correct electronic settings for the drivetrain aren't always intuitive.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
The answer here is a resounding yes. There are 4x4 SUVs for bouncing curbs at the mall, but the Toyota Land Cruiser SUV dominates when you add practicality to the ride comfort and epic off-roading ability. The reputation for bulletproof reliability tips the Land Cruiser into one of the best all-round tools on the market, and that's before we take it's 8,100 lbs towing capacity into account. The only real downsides are the lack of fuel economy in the big picture and the not-fully-fleshed-out infotainment system in the smaller picture.
From the same stable, the Toyota Sequoia is the smaller sibling of the Land Cruiser. With a starting price around $35k less than the Land Cruiser, it seems almost an illogical comparison. But, featuring the same superior safety suite and 5.7-liter V8 engine - and offering the same peak outputs - the Sequoia is worth a look if you are interested in an SUV that can seat up to eight passengers. The Sequoia offers a little more in the way of cargo space, however, and a smidgeon better gas mileage on combined cycles when equipped as a 2WD - but, with its longer wheelbase and truck-based underpinnings, it's just not as focused an off-roader as the Land Cruiser is. The Sequoia has standard rear-wheel drive and tows around 700 lbs less than the Land Cruiser, and although it offers a full-inch more in terms of ground clearance, doesn't have the impressive approach and departure angles, or Multi-terrain Select and Crawl Control, that makes the Land Cruiser the impressive off-roader that it is. Depending on your budget and needs, either of these two vehicles will do their jobs with confidence and excellence - you can't go wrong.
Another excellent offering from Toyota, the 4Runner is once again much smaller than the Land Cruiser, representing the midsize SUV segment against its larger sibling. The 4Runner comes with a reputation for off-roading prowess, and while it is by far not as luxurious or capacious as the Land Cruiser (seating a maximum of seven as opposed to eight), it is a force to be reckoned with on rougher terrain. Featuring a 4.0-liter V6 with outputs of 270 hp and 278 lb-ft, the 4Runner does well in the segment for its 5,000 lbs towing capacity, beating out rivals like the Ford Edge and Hyundai Santa Fe. It's obviously no match for the brute that is the Land Cruiser when it comes toe-to-toe for strength and power, but with a locking differential and dual-range transfer case, the 4Runner takes the lead in its own class for sheer off-road capability. So, while these two are really on opposite ends of the spectrum, the 4Runner is a worthy consideration if you're simply looking for a reliable off-roader. The Land Cruiser puts more emphasis on luxury, and will set you back almost $50k over and above the 4Runners MSRP for this privilege.
The most popular competitors of 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser: